Patriot Act Changes to Be Proposed
Gonzales Will Seek to Respond to Critics, Get Law
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 5, 2005; Page A21
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales will propose some
"technical modifications" to the controversial USA
Patriot Act today in an effort to address the concerns
of critics and ensure that the anti-terrorism
legislation is renewed by Congress later this year,
according to a Justice Department official.
In an appearance before the Senate Judiciary
Committee, Gonzales will support changes in the law
concerning secret warrants for financial documents,
library data and other business records, according to
the Justice official. The changes would clearly limit
the use of such warrants to national security
investigations and would allow targets to mount legal
challenges to the search, the official said.
The proposal marks a significant shift for the Justice
Department, which under Attorney General John D.
Ashcroft had refused to entertain proposed changes to
the legislation. It also marks an acknowledgment of
the growing clout of critics of the law, who come from
both the political left and right, and have persuaded
scores of communities around the country to pass
resolutions condemning the act.
The law, approved overwhelmingly in the wake of the
Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, dramatically increased the
government's power to conduct clandestine searches and
surveillance in a range of criminal cases. But about a
dozen of its major provisions -- including the records
provision that Gonzales has agreed to change -- are
set to expire later this year unless Congress acts to
That has laid the groundwork for a series of hearings
in both the House and the Senate in coming weeks over
the use of the Patriot Act in the past three years.
The Justice Department has argued vigorously in favor
of renewing the law, saying that the act gives
investigators crucial tools to combat shadowy
terrorist organizations and prevent future attacks.
Much of the law, including aspects that allow criminal
and intelligence investigators to better share
information, is not in widespread dispute.
But other parts have come under increasing attack from
an unusual alliance of civil liberties groups and
politicians, including some conservative organizations
and Republican lawmakers.
For example, even as Gonzales and FBI Director Robert
S. Mueller III defend the law in the Senate today,
Sens. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) and Richard J. Durbin
(D-Ill.) have scheduled a news conference to introduce
joint legislation aimed at scaling back parts of the
law. The event will also be attended by
representatives of Patriots to Restore Checks and
Balances, an ad hoc alliance that includes groups such
as the American Civil Liberties Union and the American
Conservative Union. The group was formed last month in
an effort to seek changes in the Patriot Act.
Critics of the law say they hope that by pulling
together representatives of both parties, they will be
able to convince Republican majorities in Congress
that parts of the law should not be renewed or should
"It's extremely important for people to see that this
is not simply a Republican or Democratic or right or
left concern, but that it cuts across the political
spectrum," said former congressman Bob Barr of
Georgia, who chairs the Checks and Balances group. "I
hope it gives members and senators more comfort and
some cover so it's not simply that they're supporting
the ACLU or the far right."
In addition to the provision on business records,
critics are likely to focus on measures that loosened
standards for secret intelligence warrants and on a
permanent provision that allows delayed notification
of searches -- known by critics as "sneak-and-peek
In the latter case, the Justice Department released
statistics yesterday showing that investigators have
used such warrants 155 times since October 2001.
Justice officials argue that the number is relatively
small given the thousands of warrants executed by law